Clemson (13-1) vs Alabama (14-0)
When: Monday, January 9th 2017
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
Time: 8:15 ET | TV: ESPN
For the second consecutive season, the Clemson Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide will battle for College Football’s National Championship when the two meet in Tampa, Florida on Monday night. The Tigers gave Alabama all they had last year, but came up just short in a 45-40 thriller. Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson had a huge game in the losing effort, passing for 405 yards passing and rushing for another 73. Watson passed for 259 yards and one touchdown while adding two rushing scores in Clemson’s 31-0 rout of Ohio State in the semifinals. He finished second in this season’s Heisman Trophy balloting and third in 2015 and has passed for 4,173 yards and 38 touchdowns this season but also is prone to miscues, as evidenced by his 17 interceptions. Watson threw three or more touchdown passes seven times and topped 300 yards six times while leading an offense that averaged 39.5 points and scored over 40 seven times. Juniors Mike Williams (90 receptions, 1,267 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Artavis Scott (73 catches) are as good as they get. Junior running back Wayne Gallman rushed for 1,087 yards and 16 scores to lead the backfield. The Tigers’ defense allows averages of 17.1 points and 306.9 yards per game and features weak-side linebacker Ben Boulware (team-best 121 tackles), defensive tackle Carlos Watkins (team-high 10.5 sacks) and strong safety Jadar Johnson (team-leading five interceptions) – all seniors.
The Crimson Tide will be looking for their fifth title in ten seasons and their 27th consecutive victory overall. Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts has accounted for 34 touchdowns (22 passing, 12 rushing) and is looking to join Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway (1985) as the only true freshman quarterbacks to lead a team to a national title, but he passed for only 57 yards in the Crimson Tide’s 24-7 semifinal victory over Washington. Alabama made the move of separating itself from offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin after the win over Washington, as the new Florida Atlantic coach became a distraction while attempting to juggle two jobs. Head coach Nick Saban was highly disappointed with the offensive showing against the Huskies and promoted offensive analyst Steve Sarkisian to offensive coordinator. Bo Scarbrough might be the team’s third-leading rusher (719 yards) behind fellow sophomore Damien Harris (1,013) and Hurts (891), but he shined in the semifinal contest, rushing for two touchdowns and a Crimson Tide bowl-record 180 yards. Senior tight end O.J. Howard (41 catches, 489 yards, two touchdowns) made five catches for a career-best 208 yards and two TDs while winning Offensive MVP honors in last year’s national title game. Senior defensive end Jonathan Allen (9.5 sacks, two fumble-return scores) won the Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s top defensive player and leads a strong defense. Strong safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (team-best six interceptions) is among the standouts for a unit that scored 11 defensive touchdowns (six interceptions, five fumbles) and leads the nation in both scoring defense (11.4 points per game) and total defense (244 yards).
It is really tough to go against Alabama with the defense they have, but the offense really struggled last week and the switch to a new offensive play-caller before a championship game could be problematic. Clemson’s offense is clicking right now and they proved they can score against Alabama. I can’t see Clemson scoring 40 again, but I do think they score enough to make this a close game. I’ll take the points.
Pick: Clemson +6.5